December 13, 2020. Sermon Title: We Are a People of Hope

First Mennonite Church

December 13, 2020

We Are a People of Hope

Isaiah 11:1-5, 10; Hebrews 6:13-20

The passage from Isaiah, again, when interpreted in the light of the New Testament, as Paul does in Romans 15, is a reference to the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. I will be closing with this passage in Romans 15.

The passage from the book of Hebrews is the author’s powerful exposition about the steadfastness of God’s faithfulness. God is not unjust. God does not forget. God does not change. And, God does not lie, says the author (6:10, 17 and 18). God made a promise to Abraham and God fulfilled it. Now, we are heirs of God’s promises. So, we are urged and encouraged to seize the hope that is set before us. So then, what is the hope that is set before us?

We need to realize that the word “hope” has generally been defined from two different perspectives. During the time when the New Testament was being written, the word “hope” was not necessarily a religious vocabulary. In Greek cultural settings, the concept of a “living hope,” as a key religious attitude, as found in 1Peter one, verse three, was an entirely foreign concept. “At best,” Seneca concludes, “hope assigns the possibility of good things.”[1] Hope was an attitude of expectation for either good or bad things to come. Hope guaranteed nothing. Therefore, the people in those cultures saw divination as a necessary tool to know what the future holds for them. Sacrifices were offered to placate the forces people believed controlled their fate. People relied on dreams for direction and guidance before they started major projects or engaged in wars, or embarked on journeys.

Today, hope, in the secular world, is often described as the ability to look into the future with a positive attitude. Hope is the ability to see opportunity in challenge, rather than challenges in opportunities, as someone said. Hope is the ability to see the possible good in future events, especially when those events are potentially detrimental. Again, this way of defining hope is one in which a good or positive outcome depends on the person’s ability to remain optimistic. Hope according to this definition or perspective leaves the person at the mercy of fate or chance to overcome or survive what he or she is facing. In the best of chances, this kind of hope depends on the person’s ability or versatility to overcome the situation.

Many who see hope from this perspective also resort to things they believe can improve their chances in achieving their pursuit in life. Therefore, they have with them their luck charms, amulets, rabbit’s foot, horse shoes, lucky numbers, or four-leave clover shamrock, among others.

This way of defining hope and its consequent perspective acknowledges that there is no guarantee in its source of hope. Hope according to this perspective is insecure and undependable. Therefore, we often hear people say, “We just do what we can and hope for the best.” There is no guarantee there will be a good outcome.

For us, as God’s people, our understanding of hope is different from that of the Greek and Western cultures. 

God is our source of hope. As the author of Hebrews says, God is not unjust. God does not forget. God does not change. And God does not lie (6:10, 17 and 18). His promises are found in Jesus, who is our hope both in this life and even after death. If God promises to be for us, who can be against us? Asks Paul (Romans 8:31). If the Lord says he will be with us until we breathe our last, he will do it. God is with us whether we are aware of it or not. God will be our comfort in times of trouble.

This week I spoke with my former pastor, Jesus Torres. He was my spiritual mentor during my formative years in ministry. He and his wife were very instrumental in whom I am and what I do today. His wife died last Sunday afternoon. So, I called him to give him our condolences. He said to me, “Pastor, I never had experienced a pain so deep as I feel in losing Vicenta. I feel like if there is a hole in my heart that nothing can fill. It’s only God’s reassurance that he was in Vicenta’s life and now she is with him. God gives me peace. I hear his voice in Scriptures telling me he loves me and that he is with me.”

God is faithful; it’s impossible for him to lie. God does not forget, and he is immutable (does not change). However, for the sake of those who would inherit the promise of God’s new covenant, which is us now, God made his trustworthiness even more clearly. And so, hope was personified. Hope came into the world. Hope has become the sure and steadfast anchor of our soul. Hope has entered the holy of holies. The author of Hebrews was, of course, referring to Christ Jesus. Christ is our hope of glory as Paul says (Col. 1:27).  

From this perspective, hope is not only a posture we have before God or a kind of comfort dangling before us or beckoning to us to keep pushing towards the future. Hope is not something dependent on how we feel. Hebrews speaks of hope as an anchor, a nautical instrument that secures a vessel even in the midst of a stormy sea. This hope is firm and secure in the presence of the God by his Son Jesus Christ. The One who, not only understands everything about the human condition, but one who went through every human experience in every way, except in sin (Heb. 4:15). Jesus is the anchor of our soul, therefore, no matter how rough the seas are around us, we are secure in his loving and caring hands.

As a result of that, God wants us to be a people who is overflowing with hope. This is what Paul says in Romans 15:7-12

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

My dear and beloved brothers and sisters, God wants us to be a people that inspire hope and bring hope to the hopeless. We are a people of hope. But, being hopeful does not mean we do not take reality seriously. It does not mean we are unaffected by what’s happening around us or are indifferent to suffering. It means, however, that our soul remains unmoved from the promise of him who has promised to walk with us in the darkest valley. It means we trust in him who said he will walk with us when we go through the fire. It means we have surrendered our lives to the one who said, I am the resurrection and the life.

Let us give witness to Him who is our hope of glory. Let us speak words of hope when we speak with our friends. Let us reflect Jesus, the living hope to those around us.May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

[1] Esperanza. Diccionario Teológico del Nuevo Testamento (Eds. Coenen, Beyreuther, Bietenhard) Sigueme Salamaca 1990 p. 130